We crossed into the north of Chile, at the Atacama desert. Shabbat was spent in a little town in the desert called San Pedro – a cute little tourist town that did not quite appeal. On motzei Shabbat we took a tour to the desert to see the stars, which was incredible. We learned that the constellations rise backwards – for example, we could see Orion’s feet and belt above the horizon but his arms had not yet risen. The guide brought a telescope and we saw breathtaking star formations.
The next morning our airport shuttle was 45 minutes late, and we panicked, certain that we would miss our flight to Santiago for Rosh Hashana. It turned out that everyone had overstated the time to the airport by 45 minutes, and we made it with time to spare.
Miriam’s cousin had many Chilean students in her midrasha in Jerusalem, and she set us up with a place to stay and meals. Chag was lovely. We joined 4 warm families for the meals, including the rabbis of both shuls, and enjoyed the davening in the main shul. Santiago is a pretty interesting community, because all of the religious people are baalei tshuva – up until 10-15 years ago, the city did not have a frum community at all.
We enjoyed chag in the suburbs, spent a day touring the city center, and then off I went to the town of Pucon, the seat of adventure in central Chile, where I was lucky enough to hit perfect weather for climbing the most active volcano in South America.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I decided to climb Villaricca, which was probably for the better. The tour company gave us backpacks and boots, and we began zig-zagging across the black rocks at the base, remnants from last year’s eruption. Soon we hit the snow, and continued to climb, but we found that it was covered by a layer of ice – so out came the ice axes and on came the crampons. These were pretty painful, but I forgot about them when we started walking through snow a foot deep, and all I could think about was lifting my feet to take another step. Finally, after 5 hours, we reached the top, where peering into boiling lava (lifelong dream!) ended my misery.
We started back down the steep icy hill, but slowly the sun began to melt the ice, and we found ourselves in beautiful powder. The rest of the group grabbed plastic discs to sled down the mountain. I turned to one of the guides who I had paid to be a porter of a pair of skis, strapped them on, and off the two of us went down the mountain. It was AMAZING.